Before walking across the stage inside Murphy Center to pick up his degree May 7, MTSU senior recording industry major Hunter Marlowe of Newnan, Georgia, collected $7,500 in start-up cash to help bring his sound hole tambourine invention to the masses.
Marlowe was among the students who made it to the Jennings A. Jones College of Business’ 2016 Business Plan Competition Finals, which wrapped up the spring semester by awarding a total of almost $20,000 in prizes to four finalists and other student entrepreneurs looking to turn their business ideas into reality.
Marlowe is off to a good head start.
Called the “Jambourine by Marlowe,” the aspiring singer-songwriter’s invention is an accessory to acoustic and bass guitars that fits in the sound hole. As he describes it, the product “sits silent and out of the way under the strings, until the player slaps the strings or strums across the jingles to the beat.”
Dressed in a business suit and tie, Marlowe strapped on his guitar and provided the panel of six judges with a brief demonstration during the April 26 finals presentations in the Student Union Ballroom.
He then laid the guitar aside and guided the judges through a PowerPoint presentation that included an executive summary, timeline and sales projections as well as plans for Jambourine distribution, operations and marketing.
His efforts were enough to convince the panel that his was the most viable of the four finalists’ ideas.
“This money is definitely going to help start up, and every cent is going to go toward the business,” Marlowe said, first-place plaque in hand. His next step is to order 1,000 units of the product from the manufacturer, an expense he said is roughly $6,000.
Dr. Bill McDowell, chairholder of the Wright Travel Chair of Entrepreneurship, which sponsors the event, said the competition gives students an intense hands-on learning experience and allows them to gain feedback on their plans, develop networks and expose their ideas to potential investors.
The competition is open to students and alumni willing to put their business ideas on paper into a formal business plan and navigate a series of reviews — rounds of screenings, elevator pitches, trade show displays and the final presentations — in their quest for the top prizes.
The final presentations focused on the complete business plans, where teams presented their plans to the group of judges and fielded questions. Presentations are open to investors, MTSU faculty, staff, alumni, students and MTSU friends. Teams gave a maximum 15-minute presentation, followed by 10 minutes of questions and answers.
“Our students go through quite a process to get to this point,” McDowell said. “They utilize mentors, they utilize coaches to help them develop those plans fully, so that when they are finished they have a product and a completed plan that they can go and start their business if they have not already done so.”
The competition’s runner-up winner, which received $5,000, was Hükd — pronounced “hooked” — an on-demand roadside assistance application designed to connect technicians and stranded motorists in a more timely fashion.
The third-place winner of a $1,500 prize was Music for Youth, a social enterprise benefiting children ages 6-16 by providing enriching lessons through music. Fourth place and a $500 prize went to ESPY Discovery Labs, a life-science company that would assist with antibiotic production.
The judges also awarded secondary and specialty prizes, including two awards for creativity funded by a grant from the Clouse-Elrod Foundation. All of the secondary awards included $500 prizes.
The panel of judges included Jonathan Eby, vice president of operations for classical music label and distributor Naxos of America Inc.; Phil Gibbs, founding principal of The Disruption Lab; serial entrepreneurs Mark Cleveland and Pete Hendrix; Cindi Parmenter, vice president of operations for the Nashville Technology Council; and Peter Marcum, managing partner of Nashville software developer DevDigital LLC.
The business plan competition originated through the Wright Travel Chair to cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit within the region with ideas ranging from for-profit to not-for-profit businesses and corporate entrepreneurship to social enterprises.
For more information about MTSU’s entrepreneurship program, visit www.mtsu.edu/wrightchair.
— Jimmy Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org)